A Senator’s take on health care
I was speaking with Sen. Bernie Sanders the other day as I do from time to time.
Sanders is such an interesting man. He speaks with a Brooklyn accent, lives in Vermont, and is the most liberal member of the United States Senate. To put it mildly, he is beloved by Vermonters. He was the first senator to introduce a single-payer health care bill into the U.S. Senate. It was several hundred pages long and the obstructionist Republicans, who have all the health care they personally need, insisted that every line of the bill be read.
The slower the Republicans can make the process, the less likely it is that anything can get done. Understanding this and coming down to the wire on passage, Bernie gave in and allowed his bill to be laid aside. The other, very compromised health care bill then passed. It was filled with provisions, like the one insisted on by Nebraska’s Sen. Ben Nelson, that would have the other 49 states paying for much of Nebraska’s Medicaid costs. Add to that the outrageous blackmail that would prohibit American women from exercising choice in the form of abortion and you have a lot of people with appropriately grave reservations.
Then of course, there is the arch-villain, the Benedict Arnold of contemporary American politics, Joseph Lieberman, a hypocrite and liar of the first order. Lieberman, the senator from the insurance industry, made his vote available for sale if there were no public option to compete with his insurance campaign contributors. It was all disgusting and unfair but it was agreed to by Senate Leader Harry Reid and had the obvious support of President Barack Obama.
So I asked Sanders whether he supported the compromise bill and whether he thought it was a better option than a Medicare-for-all bill that would have brought this country what most of the rest of the industrialized world has.
If you are me, you believe that basic health care is a human right. So, even though I am a fierce advocate of a single-payer health care plan that does not reward the greed of the insurance companies, you have to do what Bernie Sanders exhorts us to do. You have to consider the forty million. Yes, there are almost forty million people in this country who are uninsured. They could be your daughter or your son. They could be the laid-off factory worker from next door. In fact, they could be anyone of the 17 percent of Americans who are jobless. So ask yourself how you might feel if you were one of those people. Would you, perhaps, be scared to death that your child might die because you couldn’t afford the cost of health care? According to Sanders, such people now go to emergency rooms. Often, they go too late and the ER model really doesn’t allow for continuity of care.
Sanders says that someone can go to an emergency room for a bad cold and that the treatment they get there, often quite good, can cost $500. Sanders insisted that the bill should provide a lot of money to support walk-in health care clinics that would be open to all Americans. It’s in the bill.
Barack Obama has a lot riding on this. The right wing noise machine shouts, lies and vilifies. They yell, “One term President!” If Obama can deliver a basic health care package, compromises and all, he will have delivered on a major part of what he ran on. If health care goes through, the other stuff will not be far behind. He has to do it now when he has the sixty-vote Democratic majority in Congress. He has to know that the chances of retaining that filibuster proof majority are really not all that good. If he can bring in health care, maybe he can get on the kind of roll that will give the country Wall Street oversight and banking reform.
So, while I still think that Obama might have hung in there, fought for and won a national health care program, we will never know. Right now, I have to be for this flawed health care bill. I really can’t see any other way to get where we should be. But rest assured, I will not forget Ben Nelson or Joe Lieberman or all those people who should be having trouble looking in a mirror right now.
Originally Published in the Berkshire Eagle, 12/26/09